The African Short Story and Gender Role Disorders

Term Paper, 2016

19 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction
1.1 Women’s sexual education in Uganda.
1.2 Women’s sexual education in Zimbabwe

2. Text Analysis
2.1 About the authors
2.2 Expressions of women’s oppression in poetry
2.2.1 Harriet Anena: I died alive
2.2.2 Kristina Rungano: The Woman
2.3 Women’s empowerment through gender role disorders
2.3.1 Harriet Anena: The Axe
2.3.2 Gwendolene Mugodi: A Question of Underwear

3. Conclusion. 15 Bibliography


The current paper presents contrasting examples in African women’s literature, namely from Uganda and Zimbabwe, on the theme of oppression and gender role function. In the first part of text analysis, we will present in short two poems that summarise the general psychology of the distressed and oppressed African woman through voices that show how unfairly she has been being treated by the male counterpart and the social norms, but also her hope to emancipate herself from the restricting position the patriarchal customs impose on her. The second part zooms in unusual gender role disorders and offers examples where the male counterpart is presented in a weaker position than the female one. The cases can be classified as instances of women’s ‘empowerment’ in the way defined by Czuba and Page, i.e. as “a multidimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power in people for use in their own lives, their communities and in their society, by acting on issues they define as important.”1 In the short stories that will be analysed for this purpose we will observe how a husband’s inability to meet marital and social expectations can give rise to familial conflicts. In particular, it can transform his traditional dominant and controlling character into one of a pitiful wailer. Furthermore, it forces the wife to make a decision for the sake of her own life’s satisfaction by causing her to erupt in distress and to alter her weak, submissive, feminine character while it normally ‘should’ not. In such cases, the female counterpart justifiably has the opportunity to use not only an unexpected, strong voice that seeks for respect of her rights but also to adopt an attitude that silences the male privileges and pride. Consequently, the husband recedes in a weaker, humiliating role and is deprived of his primary function as a traditional family leader. At any case, as we will see, the disorder is sourced in the male counterpart, whereas the whole quarrel is important for the survival of the wife with regard both to her social status as well as her personal expectations as woman and wife. In these instances, it can be either (biological) nature or other general social circumstances that at times may threaten the patriarchal model.

Some basic background information on the construction particularly of the female gender roles in Uganda and Zimbabwe will be presented in order to establish the literary context, as well as to understand the woman’s expected position in later family life. The main theme here is (reversed) gender inequality, which is a situation where one gender dominates the other due to that it possesses more rights or greater authority based on certain traditional cultural values.2 This will help us during the text analysis to comprehend the woman’s psychological state during the protests or quarrels. We will observe, too, how the application of the traditional roles fails to function.


Ideas on the theme of conflicts due to unfulfilling marital duties are demonstrated in Keshubi’s novel To a Young Woman, which features AIDS education for Ugandan girls through a paternal cultural institution of uncertain origin called S(s)enga. Sengas (‘patriarchal aunts’) are found among the most populated tribe of central Uganda, the Baganda, but similar institutions exist in other ethnic groups, too, such as the Acholi people.3 This type of school tutors young girls in an acceptable feminine behaviour and it is believed that it developed as a response to the fragile position of young wives in the highly stratified, patrilineal Ugandan society. Practically speaking, not only does it intend to assist those wives in negotiating marriage, in establishing an acceptable gender behaviour or in supporting the patriarchal culture in general, but also in saving them from a potential wrath of their future husbands. Moreover, education in the Senga aims through the acquisition of manipulative knowledge in subservience, on the one hand, at the discipline of the untrained female body as well as at the exploitation of wifely performance and erotic skills, with the hope to improve the socioeconomic status of women.4 On the other hand, using a metaphorical, symbolic or figurative language code in order to avoid offending cultural sensibilities (taboos) the Senga instructs and makes future wives aware of their rights, especially the right to divorce (kunoba), in case the husband fails to meet his social and sexual responsibilities; but it generally encourages the notion of skilful seduction while the husband is expected to convincingly perform.5 In the modern urban times of Uganda along with the more liberalised capitalist market economy and, of course, the spread of electronic media the Senga has been significantly transformed to an income-generating opportunity where potential Sengas are hired by young women or their parents to perform the traditional teaching role.6

The same role is realised among the Acholi by grandmothers (adaa) who ensure in the hut’s privacy the transmission of sexual health knowledge (including menstruation), mentoring and guidance of young girls via story telling.7 But discussions on the more tabooed sex practices are carried out by the father’s sister (wayo), who plays a sisterly and confidant role in the girl’s life and respects various sensitive or secret pieces of information.

Ugandan women started gaining a voice of their own through the Non- Governmental Organisation FEMRITE, which has been involved since 1995 in topics such as women’s education, publishing, health issues, rights and other critical fields.8 Beatrice Lamwaka, one of the new wave of Ugandan fiction writers, calls for international recognition of Ugandan women’s rights on issues involving gender inequality, domestic violence by spouses or sexual partners, female genital mutilation and others.9


Patriarchal practices especially among the predominant Shona culture of Zimbabwe resemble those of the Acholi traditions.10 They seek to differentiate girls from boys already from a young age by teaching the former how to be submissive housewives and sexual beings, and the latter heads of households. Female children are discriminated upon due to the notion that they will find a husband one day and leave the household, whereas male children are more preferred because they will ensure the further existence of the family name. This explains, too, why there is a preference in educating boys to girls in a patriarchal society. As a result, once they have grown up, women notice that they had constantly been defined in relation to men and been taught that they will be depending on them for their biological existence. Just like in the case of the Ugandan Senga, with the advent of puberty they are taught to use their sexuality for the benefit of their future husband’s pleasure and to ensure his appreciation so that they do not become deserted by them during wedlock. Here, it is aunts, grandmothers and mothers who engage themselves in the sexual education of girls and its implications for their future life. It is no wonder that the tabooed sexual issues, the oppression under the teachings of “Don’t play with boys” and the whole prevention of an unbiased personality development create a confusing image for the young women opposite men, as they are supposed to live with one of these in the future.11 12 And while in some cultures it is acceptable for males to experiment sexually before marriage, females are expected to preserve their virginity solely for the official husband. Virginity tests are carried out still today in some areas of Zimbabwe. Marriage is not only considered sacred but it is the desired destination of most Shona women. In case a husband decides to have more than one wives or even extra-marital affairs, it is the wife to be blamed for failing to satisfy her husband or at least nurture him to that direction. For, sexual satisfaction is part of the marriage contract and all wives must be able to fulfil this function with its accompanying features of submission, tenderness and obedience. Due to the fact that men control the sexual encounters and wives cannot insist on protected sex - as pleasure becomes thus restricted - such phallocratic beliefs favour always the male population but are at the same time the reason why HIV infections and AIDS have spread so much.13 So, even if it is hard to accept, a woman’s success in all areas of wifely duties affects and determines to significant extent a husband’s ‘hunting’ habits.

It was not until Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 when the emergence of female writers started spreading their literary voices by portraying their treatment in radical political and social changes. It is remarkable, for instance, how many female writers’ groups were formed in Zimbabwe during the 1990s, which organised public readings and expressed their need for physical and spiritual space opposing, thus, to the oppression of domestic environment.14


1 Czuba-Page 1999, Abstract.

2 Onyemachi 2016, p. 351.

3 Harriet Anena’s story “The Axe” concerns the Acholi tribe. The practices, though, are to be understood and placed within the broader patriarchal tradition; see also p. 7.

4 Kruger 2011, p. 179.

5 Ibid., p. 180.

6 Ibid. Further sources are offered. In terms of modernity, it is also being argued that boys, too, need a ‘ssenga’, an uncle to help them grow up and guide them to manhood.

7 Patel et al. 2012, p. 5. An account of an adolescent girl is offered: “ We girls had a separate sleeping hut. My grandmother would come to our sleeping hut in the night. She told us how to behave and be respectful to other people. She used to tell us that a responsible girl does not answer back when she is talked to, and when she is being addressed, she sits down. If she is called she comes and kneels down, and listens to what she is told … that is what a bright girl does. ”

8 For more information see (2016.06.20).

9 For more on Lamwaka’s experiences see women-writers-femwrite (2016.06.20).

10 For general background information on the Shona people see Olaniyi 2013, pp. 76-9.

11 Kambarami 2006, 2. The Family.

12 The inferiority of female children in the Shona culture is also depicted in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. For more representations of male-female discrimination in this context, see analysis in Nyanhongo 2011, pp. 110, 112-4f.

13 Ibid., 3. The Marriage.

14 McLaughlin 2001, p. 212. Today the nationwide Zimbabwean Women’s Writers organisation promotes women’s literacy and encourages them to tell, write and publish their stories. See also ibid., p. 215f.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The African Short Story and Gender Role Disorders
University of Bonn
Post-colonial literature: Poverty
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ISBN (Book)
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Poverty, Gender role disorders, African patriarchy, Modern Literature
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Michael Barkas (Author), 2016, The African Short Story and Gender Role Disorders, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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